Mobile wars

At the turn of this decade, futurists were predicting that workers would soon find themselves living in an always-on world in which they were perpetually connected to the Internet: at home, on the road, in the air, at the office – even on holiday.

Until recently, though, that connectivity was pretty much one-dimensional. The phenomenal popularity of Research in Motion (RIM)’s BlackBerry meant that a single application – namely ‘push email’ – dominated, with other functionality only available when users could plug their laptops in or attach to a WiFi network.

Several technologies – particularly mobile broadband and the birth of the iPhone – have changed all that. Adding to the already proven productivity gains organisations have experienced through home working initiatives, truly mobile working now means employees are once-and-for-always unchained from their desks and able to reclaim the ‘dead time’ triggered by travel and other out-of-office situations.

Indeed, just under two-thirds of Information Age readers have encouraged or supported mobile working for more than a year, with the vast majority describing it as “effective” or “very effective”.

And for many, the smartphone is now the symbol of that kind of flexible working. Numerous executives interviewed over 2008 reported that they now carry just a smartphone while travelling, choosing to leave their laptops at home.

Furthermore, while growth in the smartphone market has subsequently slowed in the current economic climate, worldwide sales grew almost 30% in the first quarter of 2008, according to Gartner.

Much of this growth is due to the Apple iPhone, a triumph of industrial design that even Research in Motion’s senior product manager, David Heit, says “has shown that the smartphone is the way ahead.”

The fierce competition between Apple and RIM has only just begun, but 2008 undoubtedly went to Apple. Despite having over a year to study the iPhone, RIM’s recent counter-attack, the touch-screen Storm device, was met with damning reviews.

“Trying to navigate this thing isn’t just an exercise in frustration — it’s a marathon of frustration. I haven’t found a soul who tried this machine who wasn’t appalled, baffled or both,” reported one reviewer from The New York Times.

Nevertheless, BlackBerry remains the default smartphone choice for enterprise, given its greater security and the ability to deploy a BlackBerry Enterprise Server as a means of herding hundreds or thousands of devices.

Meanwhile, many vendors are racing to produce enterprise applications for the iPhone on the basis of the device’s popularity, but this could be missing a greater opportunity: the iPhone’s real strength is its browser. The potential to use the browser to run and store applications remotely, reducing the need for processing power and dramatically increasing security and battery life, is largely untapped. If, as one rather gimmicky demonstration by Informatica showed this year, you can perform data integration on an iPhone, what else can you do?

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Mobile Workforce